Bringing in the early morning during a pandemic is nothing less than stressful; now imagine doing that in the middle of lower Manhattan while trying to school three small daughters and campaigning for State Assembly in the 65th District, and you’d have a glimpse into Grace Lee’s life.
“I start to feel like a short-order cook between pancakes for one, cereal for another,” said Lee, balancing her children’s breakfasts, remote learning schedules, exercise regimens, and then her own calls to her concerned constituents during the course of a day.
Lately, with support from her husband, she’s ventured out to reach residents in need of meals with all the necessary precautions so as not to risk her family’s health.
Lee is a hard working first-generation, Asian-American progressive challenging incumbent Assemblymember Yuh-line Niou (the Lower East Side, Chinatown, South Street Seaport area, Financial District and Battery Park City) for lower Manhattan, which has been her home for nearly 20 years. She’s a proud and savvy business owner, community activist, mother, and wife that’s been leading her campaign from home during the COVID-19 health crisis that’s devastated her district.
Weighing in on the remote learning debate, she said that she is a traditionalist and that kids need in-person schooling. She also finds it troubling that there are few parents on the governor’s advisory council for New York’s education that could provide valuable, real-life input.
Her campaign focuses on issues like supporting small businesses, universal health care, fully funding the education system, boosting funding for NYCHA families, and providing rent relief for residents at risk for losing their homes due to shelter-in-place orders.
“As coronavirus was looming in the city, she voted against $40 million in COVID-19 aid,” said Lee about her opponent Niou. “We need a representative who understands the issues of our district and is going to fight for our district and vote for what’s best for our community and not her political career.”
From a safety perspective, she said, this community is very concerned about being attacked unprovoked in public for being Asian or Asian-American.
“We were directly affected simply by the fears of coronavirus. By the racist rhetoric by our President attacking China and Chinese Americans,” said Lee about the enormous impact the virus has had on her district, “Very early on people were afraid to go to Chinatown, they were afraid to eat at restaurants because they were afraid of the virus and this was before a single confirmed case.”
Lee said she understands the struggles of living through a crisis in New York City and running a small business.
She came to New York for undergraduate school, where she attended Columbia University, and then later achieved an MBA in finance. She then went on to co-found Nine Naturals, an e-commerce beauty line for pregnant and new moms that she built from her kitchen up.
“That kind of work ethic is what I’m bringing to Albany. I’m not going to be scared to be dedicated to this community,” said Lee.
Comparing her experiences to disasters like September 11th and the financial crisis in 2008, she said that the coronavirus health pandemic is probably the worst she’s endured, but she is hopeful that the city will pull through.
“One thing that I am certainly very concerned about is how small businesses are going to recover from the crisis,” said Lee, as her four-year-old plays the harmonica in the background. “Small businesses make up the cultural fabric of lower Manhattan, whether it’s Chinatown or the Lower Eastside, our communities, our neighborhoods could change dramatically after this.”